In about three weeks it'll be winter in Cupertino, and while the
turn of seasons in the Bay Area usually doesn't amount to much
beyond wearing a slightly heavier hoodie, the turning of the
seasons also represents an expiration date for one of Apple's most
Several features of iOS 15 and macOS Monterey announced way back in June didn't arrive at
launch. We got SharePlay in iOS 15.1, iCloud+ features are still in beta, and ID
cards have been delayed till 2022. But Apple still claims that
Universal Control is shipping later this fall, which means we've
got less than a month before Apple's promise to ship perhaps the best feature in Monterey, is in
Sure, three weeks is a long time… until you consider that Apple
has yet to even ship a beta version of macOS and iOS that
supports this new feature. If the feature isn't even ready to be
previewed by brave souls, how will it be ready for us all by
mid-December? It's tricky.
Nobody likes waiting until Christmas morning to unwrap the
presents under the tree, especially the one that's literally shaped
like the outline of a new bike. But we don't get to choose. Apple's
gifts, Apple's rules.
Waiting is the hardest
First, a recap: Universal Control is a feature that promises to
let the users of multiple Macs, iPads, or both to weld them
together into a more seamless experience. It's not screen sharing,
like the Sidecar feature Apple introduced in macOS Catalina, that
lets an iPad act like a second display for a Mac. Universal Control
lets the iPad remain and iPad, the Mac remain a Mac–but lets all of
those devices be controlled by the same input devices and share
clipboards and drag-and-drop as if they were the same device.
In some ways, Universal Control is the culmination of several
features that Apple has been rolling into macOS and iOS for some
time. Universal Clipboard is a major component. There's got to be
more than a little AirDrop heritage in cross-device drag-and-drop.
Even input-device sharing, which lets you drive multiple Macs, or
Macs and iPads, from a single keyboard and mouse, probably uses
remote-access technology to convey keystrokes and trackpad gestures
to other devices.
But putting all those features together? That's tricky. And
Apple's right to be cautious.
Apple seems to be
taking its time to make sure Universal Control works the way it
Your patience will be
There was a time, last decade, when Apple would ship new
versions of iOS and macOS whether or not all their features were
ready for public consumption. It's become much more disciplined
lately, choosing to delay features when they don't work.
It's a good decision. I still hear people complaining about new
macOS and iOS features that shipped broken–even though they've
since been fixed. You really do only get one chance to make a first
impression, and if a feature doesn't work reliably, users will
abandon it and never go back.
Apple has also raised the difficulty level with Universal
Control in a way only Apple could. The feature, as announced, will
essentially have no user interface. You should be able to set one
device next to another, and then push the pointer on your Mac over
to the adjoining screen, where it will pop into view. Of course, in
the background, your devices are checking for proximity via
wireless networking, and the direction you choose to push the
pointer off the edge of the screen will reveal whether that nearby
device is to the left or the right. It seems simple, but it takes
an enormous effort to make something like that appear effortless.
It would be a lot easier to make users push a button, find a nearby
device, confirm it by clicking, go to the other device and click to
confirm, drag to indicate the arrangement of devices… that's the
old school way of doing it, and I think it's great that Apple wants
this feature to be less hands-on and more intuitive.
I don't know if Universal Control will make it to all of us by
the first day of winter, even in beta form. But I'm still excited
about the possibilities. I've got an M1 MacBook Air I keep closed a
few feet away from me most of the time–but what if I could control
it easily from the same keyboard and trackpad I use to drive my
iMac. I was recently traveling with a MacBook Air and a 12.9-inch
iPad Pro, and it sure would've been nice to be able to use both of
those devices with a single keyboard and trackpad–while still
letting my iPad be an iPad and not just an external Mac
Universal Control is ambitious. It builds on tech Apple has been
adding on to macOS and iOS for years now. And it promises to make
life with multiple open Apple devices much better. Is it annoying
to have to wait six months since it was announced to try it out? Of
course. But you know the saying. Good things come to those who
wait. And so we wait.